Cognitive Functioning in Older Adults Essay

Cognitive Functioning in Older Adults PSY317: Cognitive Functioning in the Elderly Ragota Berger June 25th, 2012 Cognitive Functioning In Older Adults Not only is the country’s population growing, it is aging as well. Older adults are the fastest growing population on the charts right now. There is no point and time when a person overnight just becomes “old. ” Obviously everyone knows we simply just age; it comes with getting older. This thing called “aging” happens to everyone at a different rate. As we age we all tend to slow down but that doesn’t mean our ability to function is fully compromised.

Everyone is their own person and with that comes a different rate and way of aging. With the psychology of aging, there are certain things that can affect how we age. Intrinsic factors like heredity and extrinsic factors like disease, lifestyle, and environment can all contribute to ones aging process. When these factors start to affect us we all tend to slow down but that doesn’t mean our ability to function is fully compromised. One can still possibly function in the same way, just at a slower pace.

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In the absence of disease, many limiting effects of the normal aging process aren’t often felt till the age of 75. Even then, an older adult can adapt his/her normal routine to accommodate these physical-biological and social-emotional changes. As the saying goes, “Your only as old as your remember. ” One question that has plagued scientist throughout history is “why do we age? ” This has been a question that the answer has eluded numerous scientists. What we do know is that that aging is a process of one growing older and enduring physical and mental changes along the way.

While looking for this exact answer, aging theories have been made along the way; some with more significance than the others. It’s important not to dismiss those theories because they are all important. It’s important to understand this question because so many things require the answer to “why do we age? ” There is one group of theories; biological theories that look to explain what underlying biological mechanisms could be involved and how they are involved in the process of aging and dying. According to Edward Schneider (1992) “What we observe as biologic aging is he sum total of many independent causes, some operating at the level of individual molecules, others at the level of individual cells, and still others at the level of tissues, organs, and whole organisms. ” Looking at random damage theories, Belsky (1999) states that it “points to accumulating faults in cells’ ability to produce proteins as the cause of aging and death. (p. 67. ) So after a lifetime of cellular damaging incidents they begin to collect. After the body accumulates so many it becomes overwhelming for the body that then leads to a cellular decline.

Once that decline happens in the end it leads to death. Programmed aging theories on the other hand; look at aging and death on some sort of biological clock. It’s all programmed into our system somewhere and somehow how to age and when to die. Those backing the theory suggest that our body has a plan and a clock and that our time is limited because we have a set life span. Some scientists look to the hypothalamus as a programmed aging clock. The hypothalamus is responsible for several functions; hormones, reproduction, sexual growth and development and physical growth to name a few.

The hypothalamus is also responsible for sending women into menopause; this is done by the hormones. The hypothalamus decides when to decrease the production of certain ovarian hormones and then in return triggers the female farewell to conceiving and dealing with other monthly issues. It’s like the hypothalamus knows when to do this for each woman so therefore it must be on some type of a clock or system. As we all know, our immune system was made to fight against any foreign disease or intruder within our bodies. It’s there to intercept and kill and protect our bodies.

Over time our immune system starts to break due to constantly being attacked. It wears on the system and some believe that is when it triggers the aging process. It knows it can no longer fight and keep the body going so it begins to give out and start a cycle for the aging and death process. There is one group of theories; biological theories that look to explain what underlying biological mechanisms could be involved and how they are involved in the process of aging and dying. By understanding and describing how we age, researchers have developed several different theories of aging.

The physical aging process progresses every day. As one ages, the physical aspects of aging can make ones mobility difficult and can seem to impose on the freedom that comes with living independently, replacing it with a guard up on ones dependence. As most know gray hair, age spots, and wrinkles are just a few of the outward changes one sees physically, but there are several other changes that can impact what activities one does and how they have to do them. Changes in vision and hearing can affect how one functions in everyday life.

Decreased vision from conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration can greatly impact a person’s ability to drive, walk, read or carry-out routine activities. With aging process also comes a psycho-social change, as well, such as the loss of a spouse or close family member either through death or illness. One’s ability to do normal daily functions, such as driving is impaired. Mobility status may change, limiting how far one can even walk. Things as simple as going to get the mail or going to the grocery store, to church, or even the doctor can become physically overwhelming and can lead to increased isolation.

With the technology, research, and education available today people are living longer, yet the prevalence of dementia-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, continues to increase. The Alzheimer’s Association says that of the 5. 3 million Americans of all ages that have the disease, 5. 1 million of those are aged 65 and older, and about 2. 4 million of those are 85 years and older. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years.

In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One often views old age as a period of cognitive or more so intellectual decline. Cognitive changes typically associated with old age are better usually described as multidimensional and multidirectional. The manor in how one examines cognitive changes with old age is also influenced by how one defines such terms as development and aging.

The life-span developmental perspective views cognitive changes associated with old age as part of normal development. Most don’t look at aging as a disease state but as a normal developmental process. Even fluid intelligence changes that are associated with decline are viewed as part of the normal process as opposed to as a disease process. Cognitive processing refers to the interplay among six distinct components, whose combination represents intelligence: sensory processing, short term memory, learning, storage and remembering.

Let’s look at the Information-processing perspective first: According to our book, Belsky (1999) associates this with “Theory that information proceeds through three steps, or stores, on the way to becoming a memory. ” (p. 197) So there is a set of steps that the information must go through. Sensory memory or store is where the intake happens. It retains what is seen or heard immediately, but only for a few seconds. The next step is working memory. Working memory is basically short term memory that could be compared to like the ram on a computer. So once sensory memory kicks in, it’s time for the working memory to step in.

Sensory needs to decide if this is a useful piece of information, song, or picture. This information is only temporary while we decide if it needs to be moved beyond that point. So to stop ourselves from forgetting what we’ve just put in our working memory we need to memorize it and move it to a more permanent location. That permanent location is long-term memory. This is information we plan on remembering for as long as we can. It can be important useful information or something with a lot of meaning. It seems that as people age, their ability to encode and then retrieve the information deteriorates.

The processing of those memories seems to come in at a slower rate slowing most things or causing them to forget it by the time it reaches long-term memory Looking at Memory-Processing perspective: Unlike information-processing perspective, Blesky (1999) says that “Tulvings framework dividing memory into discrete systems or categories. ” (p. 199) So here we are looking at categories and not steps. There are three types of categories. Procedural implicit memory deals with memory that just comes naturally. We don’t study it its just automatic. For example; emotions and physical skills.

So once you learn how to fish, it just comes automatic the next time. Semantic memory deals with memory that comes from ones knowledge. For example there are 7 days in a week or 12 months in a year. Episodic memory deals with ongoing life events. Like what movie the girls and I saw last week or where the different departments are located in the hospital. Memory-processing perspective finds that the elderly are just as capable as young people when it comes to implicit and semantic memory but as far as the everyday life events (episodic) they were at a greater disadvantage.

Our memory capabilities will change and it seems that things in present time will become harder to retain but there are also variables to factor in. According to Jonathan Foster (2011), “In some of our own research, my collaborators and I have shown that moderate physical activity may help to counter age-related cognitive decline. What’s more, it now seems that conditions such as diabetes may be an important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia. These discoveries may lead to ways to forestall and prevent memory decline. ” (p. ) Aging, by itself, does not result in significant decreases in intelligence. It is purely a myth that as one becomes older they become less intelligent. It is true that specific cognitive processes do become less efficient with age. Older adults will see a reduction in sensory abilities, attention capacities, learning abilities, and show some deficit when it comes to remembering information. These particular disruptions to cognitive processing are not universal characteristics among the aging and many older adults can find suitable ways to compensation for any specific cognitive deficits that they may experience.

Through an aging person’s life, many experience changes in relationships e. g. marriage, divorce, death, living with children, living with other relatives or having to live alone. Losses become an inherent part of the aging process. The loss of family members or friends is not only an emotional loss but can change our social network. Those suffering a loss or a spouse, or suffering from decreased health often turn to family members as a source of companionship and care. They sometimes find themselves having nowhere else to go and have to turn to these people or loved ones for financial, emotional and health support or assistance.

It’s important to remember that as one ages they start to develop a different relationship within society. According to Mary Hughes (2004) “However, loneliness is likely to be an important aspect of aging. ” A withdrawal from society may be partial or total and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is the one withdrawing; it could be society as a whole pushing them out. Older adults tend to be less involved in live as they were when they are younger, and that’s why it’s important for them to continue being as socially engaged as possible.

It can make a huge difference in their everyday quality of life. Something such as retiring may not be so detrimental if the person remains active in other roles, such as family roles, recreational roles, and volunteer ;amp; community roles. It’s important to remember that in order t o maintain a positive sense of self worth, that person must be willing to substitute new roles for those that are lost because of age. As we learned earlier there are several factors that can affect aging and there are recommendations for a healthy aging process.

If you don’t suffer from a chronic illness and have a safe environment, a good social network and satisfying relationships you will have a better chance of retaining a high quality of life into your later years. Exercise and proper nutrition have been noted as factors lowering their incidence and slowing or reversing their effects. Older people should do some form of physical activity, no matter their age, weight, health issues or abilities. This has been shown to help improve one’s well-being. Even some things as simple as improving social interactions can help improve quality of life and help with depression.

Those that take the time to exercise and maintain a healthy active level can build and maintain healthy bones, and joints which in return can reduce the risk of injury for falls or accidents as well as reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some other medical onsets. Now day’s education has become a big factor in helping to improve aging. Reading and asking your physician for information on healthier aging and community activities is a great place to start. Exercising daily or regularly can give the elderly long term health benefits.

According to Voelcker (2010,) “We found that not only physical fitness indexed by cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength, but also motor fitness including movement speed, balance, motor coordination and flexibility showed a strong association with cognitive functioning. ” (p. 167-176. ) In conclusion, by now we know that people age at different rates depending on certain factors; whether it be genetics, diet, culture, activity level or ones environment. The point is we all age we all have our own aging clock.

According to Kirkwood (2008) “There is clear heritability of human longevity” (p. 117-127. )When one really thinks about it, aging begins the moment we are born. People have to remember aging is not a disease, granted more aches, pains, wrinkles and gray hairs may appear. Those are all just part of the normal aging process. Aging doesn’t have to be a debilitating process; it is what you make of it. As we age we all tend to slow down but that doesn’t mean our ability to function has to be compromised. References Belsky, J. (1999). The psychology of aging (3rd ed. . Cengage. Foster, J. K. (2011). Memory. New Scientist, 212(2841), i-24. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 June 2012 Hughes, M. , Waite, L. J. , Hawkley, L. C. , & Cacioppo, J. T. (2004). A Short Scale for Measuring Loneliness in Large Surveys Kirkwood, T. L. (2008). Understanding ageing from an evolutionary perspective. Journal Of Internal Medicine, 263(2), 117-127. Voelcker-Rehage, C. , Godde, B. , & Staudinger, U. M. (2010). Physical and motor fitness areboth related to cognition in old age. European Journal Of Neuroscience, 31(1), 167-176.